Australian Bookmakers go to war over NRL Taxes

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Australian Bookmakers at war with NRL
Some of Australia's largest bookmakers are resigned to having no active integrity agreement with the NRL within days as chief executive Todd Greenberg is set to be dragged into urgent talks over how much the game charges Australian Bookmakers for betting on its matches.

Two months after the start of the season, the NRL is still yet to formalise a long term agreement with the country's Australian bookmakers over its product fee amidst suggestions the game's new pricing structure could take an extra $10 million annually from wagering coffers.

But after rolling over previous agreements with short-term one-month extensions in both March and April, the NRL's increasingly strained relationship with bookmakers is set for a showdown this week, as League Central refuses to back down on its product-fee position.

The latest accord will expire on Tuesday and Fairfax Media understands bookmakers have become so frustrated with the NRL's stance that Greenberg is set to be personally asked to meet with Australia's wagering chiefs to help mediate the row.

There are also suggestions some Australian bookmakers will seek legal advice if the NRL forges ahead with its proposed pricing structure on Tuesday, so big is the gulf between the parties, who have built little to no advance despite months of negotiations.

Apart from the NRL's insistence that it levies bookmakers the greater of three per cent on turnover or 20 per cent of gross revenue on each individual bet type that has four or more alternatives, such as first tryscorer marketplaces, bookmakers are revolting against plans to backdate the charges to March 1.

Given the raft of upset results over the first two months of the season, it could see the NRL pocket a windfall estimated to be several million dollars above fees they've collected under the terms of temporary agreements.

The higher taxes Australian bookmakers could be forced to pay has already prompted some to hint they will drastically shave back their promotion of NRL marketplaces, which would ultimately cut the amount of revenue the code could generate from the growth of sports betting.

Some of the country's racing jurisdictions, which almost exclusively derive their income from gamble, charge bet taxes at a lower rate than those proposed by the NRL, which could watch bookmakers pump millions into more liberally marketing markets on AFL and rugby union.

The longtime fee on standard wager types such as head-to-head and line-betting has traditionally been 1.2 per cent of turnover.
One route for Australian bookmakers to skirt having to fork out the extra fees for bet types with four or more winning options would be to realign how they offer popular markets, such as margin betting.

Instead of offering a margin alternative with five winning options- including 1-12 and 13+ for both teams alongside a draw- bookmakers have floated the prospect of cutting it back to simply three winning options, thus foregoing the NRL's inflated fees for marketplaces with four or more options.

There is also a sense within NRL headquarters that the hardline stance with the new integrity accords is a sign the game is comfortable distancing itself from gambling, even if it outcomes in the game not maximising its revenue from the sector.

The Tim Simona scandal and a long-running investigation into match fixing in the code, which ultimately led to no charges, triggered a raft of negative publicity for rugby league.

The NRL has already banned all wagering sponsorship and signage from its new four-team women's competition, which is due to kick off subsequently this year.

A recent Roy Morgan poll told 7.6 per cent of fund wager in Australia is on NRL and State of Origin, a figure which outstrips AFL's  ( 6.8 per cent) slice of the wagering pie.

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